Monday, November 09, 2015

226.3 - Update: Dismissal of discrimination suit and loss for HERO in Houston show continuing need for federal protection

Update: Dismissal of discrimination suit and loss for HERO in Houston show continuing need for federal protection

If we want flat-out bad news on LGBTQ rights, we have to come home, where a recent case shows both the persistence of anti-LGBTQ prejudice and the need for federal level protection.

In Missouri, a gay man named James Pittman who was harassed by his boss and then fired over questions about his sexuality has lost his discrimination suit because, the state supreme court found, Missouri's Human Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation and would not accept Pittman's argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation is sex discrimination. In other words, in short, in Missouri it is entirely legal to discriminate against homosexuals.

Missouri is hardly alone: Only 17 states and Washington, DC have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations; five more have some limited protections.

Which means 28 states have no explicit statewide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be harassed, fired, denied housing, denied public accommodations, with impunity.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC, has found that both sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under existing federal protections in the Civil Rights Act, but those were administrative law judgments and so not legally binding on courts. Including those of Missouri.

Worse news, in the sense of sadder news, comes out of Houston, the nations' fourth largest city, where a campaign of bigotry and lies has been successful in defeating a proposed city equal rights ordinance that would have extended legal protection against discrimination to 15 protected classes, including LGBTQ people.

The city adopted the ordinance in May 2014, but it was held up when the reactionaries and bigots mounted a legal challenge which was upheld by the equally right-wing Texas supreme court, which ruled that for some hard-to-decipher reason, the city could not pass such a law but had to put it to a referendum.

When the campaign for that referendum came, the bigots quickly latched on to the possibility that it would allow a transgender male - that is, someone declared male at birth but who identifies as, thinks of themself as, female - to use the woman's restroom. It was labeled "the bathroom bill" and the haters focused all their attention on delusional but useful images of male sexual predators going into women's bathrooms to molest girls, focused attention to the point where a good number of people thought the ability of men to use women's bathrooms was the only thing the referendum was about.

(A quick sidebar which I think is revealing of the reactionary mindset involved here is that no one seemed disturbed by the idea of a transgender woman using the men's room.)

Supporters of the ordinance, as is all too often the case, proved incompetent at dealing with that kind of limbic system appeal, instead trying to run an upbeat campaign emphasizing the protections it offered and the fact that it was similar to those approved in 200 other cities. There was no way that, to use a slogan from a couple of years back, "reality-based" campaign was going to counter ads and posters shouting “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

I said it when the Supreme Court declared bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional: The battle is not over. And when these sort of fights come up again, as they surely will, we've got to stop playing nice with the bigots.

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